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Aspiration, Taxes, and "Class Warfare"

David Callahan

With polls showing strong public support for tax hikes on the rich, Republicans should hardly relish a fight with President Obama over “class warfare.” And yet, for weeks, GOP leaders have been bashing the White House for a tax plan that affects just 2 percent of U.S. households and lets the rest of us off the hook.

How is this smart politics?

Maybe it isn’t, but sticking up for the rich is more popular than one might think – and not just in Palm Beach. America is a famously aspirational country and Republicans have long sought to ally themselves with that ethos. If you want to make a pile of money, the GOP is the party for you – or so they say. It vows to clear away barriers to getting rich, like pesky employer healthcare mandates and environmental rules, and let you keep more of your winnings.

Meanwhile, the conservative story goes, all the left cares about is social leveling. Democrats want to punish the successful in order to subsidize the losers, leading us toward a dreary future in which America’s hot shots no longer even make an effort and everyone ends up poorer. As Fox News puts it, Obama favors “takers” over “makers.”

This is nonsense, of course. The President merely wants to go back to the tax rates of the 1990s, a boom decade hardly remembered for its creeping socialism. And one of his main reasons for hiking taxes on the wealthy is precisely to keep the American dream alive, avoiding deep cuts to education, infrastructure and other keys to our long-term prosperity. What’s more, the wealthy have been pulling up the ladder behind them for years – they’re the real experts at class warfare, according to Warren Buffett – and it’s about time that we had a president who says that this is not okay. So far, most Americans would seem to agree.

Still, singling out the wealthy for higher taxes does carry risks. 

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